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"While past studies have found obesity in middle age increases a person's risk for dementia or Alzheimer's disease, our finding shows obesity in old age has no effect on a person's memory. These findings are consistent with previous studies showing that weight loss or low body mass index in old age may be a precursor of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease," study author Dr. Maureen T. Sturman, a researcher at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, said in a prepared statement.
The six-year study included more than 3,800 people over the age of 65. Of those, nearly 25 percent were obese (body mass index over 30), and 37 percent were overweight (BMI between 25 and 29.9). Participants underwent cognitive tests at regular intervals over the course of the study.
Overweight or obese people did not experience significantly different changes in memory or cognitive function compared to those with normal weight. In fact, the researchers found that underweight people had more cognitive decline.
The study is published in the Sept. 19 online issue of the journal Neurology.
"We do not know yet why being overweight or obese does not increase the risk of cognitive decline in old age; however, being underweight may be a correlate of the initial stages of Alzheimer's disease," Sturman said.
-- Robert Preidt
SOURCE: Rush University Medical Center, news release, Sept. 19, 2007
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